Mission Beach’s white-sand shoreline buzzes with more than just beachgoers. Clusters of food stands, nightclubs, street performers, and other forms of entertainment create a carnival-esque atmosphere off the sand. It just goes to show that the extensive list of things to do in San Diego stretches much further inland than the famous coast.
Take the Gaslamp Quarter, which is arguably one of the trendiest listings on the National Register of Historic Places. The area forms both the historic center of town and a hub of San Diego nightlife, with nearly 100 Victorian-era buildings now occupied by high-end boutiques, jewelers, and gourmet restaurants.
During the day, a stroll through iconic Balboa Park takes you past 17 separate museums, as well as the world-famous San Diego Zoo and Safari Park. The Safari Park immerses guests in the wild with themed adventures on trams, carts, or ropes courses and zip-lines. Explorers get up-close and personal with giraffes and rhinos, and can even camp overnight among the creatures. There's also the vibrant Spanish Village Art Center, a living gallery where local artists continuously produce pottery, hand-blown glass, and oil paintings for sale.
Farther north, in Old Town—the site of the first European settlement in California—shops in Mission–style stucco buildings sell colorful wrestling masks, woven baskets, and maracas. Nearby stands The Whaley House Museum, dubbed one of the Most Terrifying Places in America by the Travel Channel. Ghosts of former residents are said to inhabit the rooms, which are filled with Victorian furniture and eerie dolls.
A journey to Cabrillo National Monument on the Point Loma peninsula reveals San Diego’s historic origins. The monument honors Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the European explorer credited with discovering America’s west coast in 1542. Pay your respects at the monument, then check out Point Loma’s Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, the final resting place of more than 86,000 veterans and their families. Or examine the diversity of the peninsula’s residences, which range from modest cottages to mansions. The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve also safeguards a piece of the past—2,000 acres’ worth, to be exact. This untouched enclave of nature includes eight miles of scenic hiking trails.
If the kids won’t stand for a quiet nature walk, there’s always the New Children’s Museum downtown. Instead of adhering to the do-not-touch policies of most museums, this hands-on space encourages participation with interactive exhibits, art projects, and performances. Nearby, SeaWorld San Diego captivates the entire family with water rides and shows starring massive killer whales.